The Nashville Predators played a considerably different game than they had in their first two matches of the season--both high-scoring losses--but the end result was ultimately the same in a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night in the United Center.
After scoring in the opening two minutes of each of their first two games, the Predators got off to a slower start Thursday. Midway through the opening period, the visitors were being outshot 10-4 and were down 1-0 on a goal by Michal Handzus.
"We wanted to make sure we were responsible and played better team defense," Predators associate coach Brent Peterson said, "but in the first period we stood around and were so tentative and not going to people that we weren't that good. After that we played very well. We outshot them 32-18 in the final two periods. We ended up skating and playing our game and playing good solid hockey.
"It's just little things, little mistakes here and there that cost us the game. We couldn't get [another] one past [Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai] Khabibulin."
Khabibulin stopped 37 of Nashville's 38 shots to earn first-star honors. Forwards Martin Havlat and Mikael Holmqvist each posted two-point nights for Chicago, while off-season acquisition Jason Arnott scored his first goal as a Predator early in the third to tie the game at 1-1. A well-executed two-on-two rush by the Hawks led to Jeff Hamilton's go-ahead goal at 12:20. Nashville starting goaltender Chris Mason was pulled in favor of an extra offensive attacker with 1:36 left as the Predators tried to draw the game even again. Shortly thereafter, Havlat sealed Nashville's fate with an empty-net goal at 19:23.
Earlier in the third, a golden opportunity for the Predators to tie the game slipped away during a fruitless 1:25 of five-on-three power-play time. Neither team was able to convert with the manpower advantage Thursday--Nashville was 0 for 5 and Chicago went 0 for 4.
Mason offered a strong performance in his first start of the season, stopping 28 of 30 Chicago shots. "He needs to play so he doesn't sit too long," Peterson said regarding the decision to go with Mason instead of Tomas Vokoun. "He's been sharp in practice and he deserved a chance to play."
With the loss, the Predators drop to 0-3 on the young season. "We've been tied in the third period of three games and not come out of them with any points," Peterson said. "It's a little frustrating. We're losing all different ways.
"We played much better. Much more responsible. Much more team-oriented. Now we've just got to find a way to finish off our chances, score on the power play, kill penalties and do everything it takes to win a game."
Next, the Predators return home for a Saturday night game against the 1-3 Phoenix Coyotes. Game time is 7:00 p.m. at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Tickets are still available and can be ordered online or by calling 615-770-PUCK. All fans in attendance will receive a free O'Charley's Magnetic Schedule.
NOTES: Nashville allowed the first goal of the game for the first time this season... The chemistry between Nashville forwards David Legwand and Scott Hartnell continued Thursday night, with the two generating many of the Predators' best scoring chances. The pair combined for seven shots on goal... Paul Kariya earned his second assist--and second point--of the season for setting up Jason Arnott's goal... Scottie Upshall was inserted into the lineup for the first time this season. He brought spark to the team and tied Jason Arnott for most shots on goal in the game (5)... Nashville's Darcy Hordichuk fought Chicago's Reed Low to a draw 8:16 into the game. The bout, which started right off a face-off, was a response of sorts to an incident in last Thursday's opener when the 6'4", 200-pound Low engaged 5'9", 194-pound forward Jordin Tootoo... Defenseman Ryan Suter (+1) was the only Predator to finish with a plus rating in the plus/minus statistical category... The Blackhawks have now won the past three meetings at the United Center... Scott Nichol, Vern Fiddler and Greg Zanon were scratched from the Predators lineup Thursday.